While relationships provide the traction for faith to stick, there are several factors involved in the faith-forming process:

We explore these factors in detail at the Do What Matters workshop for congregational leaders. But I’d like to offer a few thoughts on each in this series.

Age Groups Matter

Most ministry practitioners will tell you that there are some fundamental flaws with the Sunday School / Youth Group model of faith formation that has been the norm in our congregations for several generations.

I agree, but I contend there is still great value in age-segmented faith formation. The flaws are not the fault of age groups per se, but rather the “departmental” structure of congregational life, along with the narrow age-range focus of faith formation almost exclusively on children and youth.

If it’s only children and youth we’re concerned about, then, it makes sense to create a “department” of Christian Education, put someone who works well with children in charge, and leave it up to that person to find the volunteers needed to fill the graded level slots for Sunday School.

Similarly, it makes sense to put someone who works well with youth in charge of the Youth Group and Confirmation, and leave it up to that person to find the volunteers and run the program that will attract youth.

And along the way, these persons are expected to report to staff and council how things are going – usually by giving numbers in attendance.

Yet, congregational faith formation must incorporate a holistic, lifelong, and integrated approach designed to reach all ages and all stages. Placing intergenerational programming at the core of this approach has yielded positive results for many churches.

But amidst this integrated approach, there is a place for age segmented formation.

  • There are topics of faith that are learned best in developmentally appropriate ways, such as issues of justice, ethics, and morality.
  • There are spiritual enrichment experiences that work best with particular age groups, e.g. Vacation Bible School for children, summer camp and rally-type events for middle-schoolers, retreats and mission trips for youth, issue-related discussions for young adults, faith-sharing and Bible study groups for adults.

These age-segmented programs have a powerful faith-forming influence on thousands and thousands of people year after year. So, age groups matter. Yet each of these programs relies upon and presumes a broader context of faith expression and religious practice, and in most cases that means participation in the life and worship of the congregation.

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We can, and need to, break out of our silos and develop an integrated structure of faith formation. As we do so, there will still be a place for age groups.

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